The Mediterranean diet adapts to the times

The Mediterranean diet adapts to the times

June 03, 2016

The Mediterranean diet adapts to the times

We tend to talk about the Mediterranean diet, though it would be more accurate to talk about it in the plural as, in reality, there are various versions of the diet as it adapts to different requirements.

The first understanding of the concept of the “Mediterranean diet” dates back almost a century, when Italian nutritionist Lorenzo Piroddi noticed the link between what would later become the Mediterranean diet and health. We have come a long way since 1939 and, thanks to research by American doctor Ancel Keys, the popularity of the Mediterranean diet has grown so much among experts working in health that in 2010 UNESCO declared the approach to food “intangible cultural heritage to humanity”.
The basic principles have remained the same: lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, olive oil, nuts and fish and limited amounts of animal fats and meat, particularly red meat. These principles are represented graphically in healthy eating models (“pyramids” and “plates”) created in the United States from 1992 to explain in a simple way what we should be eating.
Nowadays, however, there is more than one Mediterranean diet. The original model has kept itself current, changing over time according to the latest scientific discoveries and changes to society, generating different versions for different contexts.

Mediterranean diet for each age
After Ancel Key’s “Seven Countries Study” carried out from the 1950s, research into the Mediterranean diet has multiplied, resulting in detailed knowledge about the effect consuming certain foodstuffs has on our health. While the food pyramid is a model describing the Mediterranean diet, nowadays more than one version of it exists, and in some cases, the differences relate to the age of the user.
In this view, the “food pyramid for the elderly population,” was presented for the first time in 2008 by researchers at Tufts University in the United States. The foods represented still adhere to the principles of the Mediterranean diet, but they have been slightly “adjusted” to make the diet more appropriate for the mature population.
Given that elderly people sometimes find it difficult to go shopping and get their hands on fresh produce, this version of the diet includes tinned or frozen foods and stresses the importance of water and keeping hydrated, as some old people no longer feel as thirsty as they used to. Last, but by no means least, the Mediterranean diet for the elderly also includes the use of vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium supplements.
Like for the elderly population, other models of the Mediterranean diet have been developed for various stages of life (childhood, pregnancy and breastfeeding) and for particular situations (diabetes or other illnesses), many of which are illustrated in the book Eating Planet by the BCFN.

The Mediterranean diet follows society
Society is increasingly multi-ethnic and, keeping in step with the times, the Mediterranean diet has adapted, introducing foods that weren’t contained in the original version of the diet for the simple reason that they were unknown to the populations overlooking the Mediterranean. An example of the multicultural variation of the Mediterranean diet is the transcultural food pyramid put together by the Società Italiana di Pediatria, created to favour knowledge about the adoption of the Mediterranean diet by the younger generations, introducing flavours and foods that are new for Italians. And so alongside cereals and pseudo-cereals, in addition to the classics wheat and spelt, the diet also contains millet, sorgho, amaranth and quinoa. Likewise, dulce de leche, fried plantain and nachos are featured alongside biscuits and chips as foods to eat occasionally. While “new” types of fruit and vegetables have been introduced, namely lychees, mango and cassava leaves.

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